By MARINA WATERS
Jonesborough firefighter Luke Story inspired many, dedicating his life to helping others.
To continue this legacy, the annual Luke Story Memorial Blood Drive will be back again on Monday, April 24, at the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center to continue to spread the idea of helping the community—a mission that both Story’s life and one of the blood drive coordinators, the Jonesborough Community Chest, both share.
“We felt that Luke Story was a dedicated public servant, he cared about his community and really embraced a lot of the values that the community chest wants to convey,” Community Chest President Adam Dickson said. “So we thought it was very fitting to put together a blood drive that would not only honor his memory, but would also promote the values of again giving back to the community, coming together as a community and trying to do something that promotes the greater good.”
Story was a Jonesborough native and committed member of the Jonesborough Fire Department and Washington County Emergency Services. He was also heavily involved with the community through his work with projects such as the Christmas event, Shop With A Cop, and the Prom Promise he enacted with David Crockett High School and later Daniel Boone High School and for which he won an award for his service. In 2015, he faced from which he died at age 37.
“Luke was just an exceptional young man. Luke is one of those individuals who sincerely had a servant’s heart,” Public Safety director Craig Ford said. “He was constantly, not only serving his community as a firefighter, but looking for some things to do to make his community a better place.”
The Luke Story Foundation for patients and families dealing with pancreatic cancer was created in his honor and now the “Story Strong” blood drive, as it is also called, is dedicated to raising funds for the foundation and also collecting blood donations at the event through the non-profit regional blood center, Blood Assurance.
“Our goals are very small. We’re hoping to have 30 people come and donate and we want to try to raise $500 to give to the pancreatic cancer foundation. So it’s not out of the way,” Dickson said. “If we have to undergo an operation, then we need blood. If we’re in a car accident, we need blood. So it’s a very simple task, but it’s a very universal task. It’s something everybody can do and it’s a really great service project.”
While the event was created to raise money and blood donations while honoring Story, Dickson is also hoping the event will support the belief of helping one’s neighbor in such a community as Tennessee’s oldest town.
“In an area like Northeast Tennessee, we’re still shielded from the rest of the country, but a lot of the country has gotten away from the idea of just simply loving their neighbor and showing concern for their neighbor,” Dickson said. “So the concept is still alive here locally, but in many cases, neighborhoods have changed over the course of say 20, 30 years. Because we’re now so busy, the opportunity to get to know your neighbors is a little bit harder now. By donating and spending time, hopefully we get to know each other and build that sense of community.”
That community spirit isn’t something that just popped up with the springtime daisies one April afternoon in Jonesborough, according to Dickson. He considers the sense of community found at events such as the Luke Story Memorial Blood Drive as something that Jonesborough honestly represents.
“The sense of community that you feel when you go into Jonesborough, that did not just happen on it’s own. It’s intentional,” Dickson explained. “We have a really great gem in Tennessee’s oldest town and it’s not based on cash, it’s not based on influence or prestige, or position. It’s based on individuals who are intentional to make it work. And that’s the reason that we’ve got to continue to do these events. That’s the reason we need to grow the Community Chest. That’s the reason we need the McKinney Arts Center and all these kinds of things because we have to be intentional in building community.”
“I’m sure you hear so many times that people feel like Jonesborough is a special place,” Ford said. “There is such a strong sense of community here. We’ve heard Main Street characterized more than once as the front porch of America. So certainly having events like this in our community, it shows that we certainly in Jonesborough are walking the walk and not just talking the talk.”
In addition to reaching the events fundraising and community goals, Ford, who knew Story well and hired him as Jonesborough’s first full-time firefighter, is also hoping to spread cancer awareness through the event.
“I feel strongly that there is a cure out there for cancer. I lost an uncle to pancreatic cancer. I lost a mother-in-law to stomach cancer. We need to constantly keep reminding people of the seriousness of cancer and we continue to remind the public of the dangers of cancer, how it effects brothers, sisters, son, daughters, mothers, daughters. It has an impact and an effect on just so many people,” Ford said. “So hopefully by us continually reminding people of those who pass away from cancer and also cancer survivors, we hope that that constant reminder continues to fuel the research efforts to find the cure.”
The inspiration to spread cancer awareness and support the community is a driving force for the event each year, but for those at the Jonesborough Fire Department like Story’s friend and fellow fireman, Chason Freeman, remembering Story is a frequent occurrence.
“I knew Sergeant Story for over 15 years. Me and him became really great friends and I had the honor of serving under his command,” Freeman said. “He’s truly missed. It’s hard not having him every day, but we know he’s in a better place and he’s not having to hurt. Humans, we don’t want to give somebody up. It’s selfish. We know he’s in a far better place than what we are, but he’s truly missed. And we look forward to seeing him one day.”
For the fire department, growing the event each year is always the hope, not only to honor Story, but to also help others just as he would have done.
“I want to see this be a big event. A lot of people think of blood and needles and that kind of turns them away. But it’s for a good cause,” Freeman said. “The life you give today may help somebody tomorrow. Whether it’s a total stranger or even a loved on. You never know.”
The Town of Jonesborough, event coordinators and the community all play a large role in the blood drive and fundraising event, but the inspiration, Luke Story, is still a force that keeps this annual event coming back each year—and the late firefighter is someone people in town, like Dickson and Ford, still think about and remember in the good work they set out to complete.
“I think he’d be pleased,” Dickson said. “Maybe he wouldn’t want his name attached to it out of modesty, but I think he’d be pleased about the fact we’re trying to get the community out for a larger purpose greater than ourselves.”
“One of the things I said at Luke’s funeral was that I was proud to be able to say that I made the recommendation to hire Luke. And that’s certainly one that I got right,” Ford said.
“He really did want to make his community a better and safer place and I think he did just that.”